The Arches, restaurant review: ‘I’d pay double what they charge for art on a plate’
15:00 25 May 2016
Maria tries out The Arches, a quirky and buzzy local restaurant in South Hampstead, with decor as eclectic as the clientele and is inspired by a smoked duck Caesar salad to recreate the delicious dressing.
I find the British food scene a little depressing if truth be told.
So many establishments leave me thoroughly irritated with uninspiring, over priced menus, sloppy wine lists that blare extortion, continuous upselling, waiters who refill your glass the minute you take a sip (particularly irksome), £17 for a pasta dish because it’s Kensal rise and they can.
The list is endless, which is why I remain terribly grateful to my friend and an ex pastry chef at The Ritz for pointing me in the direction of The Arches, a quirky, fun and buzzy place to eat, but most of all, representing everything that is right about serving food and drink to a hungry customer.
It’s not a place where hushed dining or minimalist décor abounds. It’s noisy, stuffed to the gunnels with memorabilia, has a terrific atmosphere and an eclectic clientele.
The wine list is legendary; you can buy a very decent house wine for under £20, or should your pockets allow, a Petrus for £1,200.
Here’s the thing though; Harry, the larger than life owner since 1991 is savvy enough to know that you can give people what they want without resorting to extortion.
So many places bung on 500-600percent and as Harry says, ‘Why,? You’re just pulling a cork’.
It’s this philosophy which has made The Arches enviously full most nights.
Another fact that surprised the hell out of me is that both the chef and the charming general manager, Ivana have been with Harry for over 20 years, which speaks volumes.
I had a chat with Joseph, the quiet and ‘uncheffy’ chef, whose idea of feeding people is simple; the best ingredients put together with carefully thought out accompaniments and sauces.
It’s not exactly radical, but I’m afraid far too many establishments have forgotten the rudiments and offer exotic sounding dishes that just don’t work.
I was delighted to see seared tuna on the specials board.
I thought it was a starter for £8.95 and was rather taken aback when the waitress informed me it was the cost of a main.
My dining companions chose the bass, served with chips and a tri-colore salad (£10.50) and the chicken wrapped in prosciutto with courgette, mozzarella and sunblush tomato stacks (£11.95).
A smoked duck Caesar salad (£7.20) and parma wrapped asparagus £6.95) preceded the mains with some bread and olives (£2).
We also chose the house Sauvignon Blanc (£18.95) and as my fellow foodies agreed, it’s always a good sign when the house wine is hugely quaffable, as this most certainly was.
It’s rarer than hen’s teeth to collectively savour a meal from start to finish, but savour we most certainly did.
An incredibly generous portion of duck was nicely scattered over a delightfully fresh and crisp lettuce to which clung a delicious dressing.
The asparagus had the perfect bite and was cloaked in soft, melting parma ham. The seared tuna was art on a plate. It was exquisite, sitting on a light jus, begging to be scoffed.
I would easily have paid double what they were charging.
The chicken was moist and tender, the vegetable stacks worked well and the bass was an utter joy.
The bill, including service and two bottles of wine, a couple of juices and a latte came to just over £100.
If I had a tiny gripe, I would ask them to change the bread supplier.
This aside, they have a huge fan who is going to introduce this marvellous restaurant to friends who are just longing to patronize an independent place that knows how to look after and feed customers at an affordable price.
Harry and gang, I salute you.